Germany! Germany! Two months before this tournament, a quarterfinal match-up between Argentina and the hosts would have had people saying "Auf wiedersehen" to Klinsmann's squad. And that still might happen: Argentina could win this whole thing, and Germany aren't guaranteed to stop them on their way. However, anyone who has watched this Cup knows that the Germans, to our pleasant surprise, are playing some of the most entertaining soccer. (Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger of SoccerNet wrote after the Poland match: "Of all the teams we have seen so far, Germany is also the one that has delivered the most unforgiving high-tempo, route-one football.") I feel my status as a Germany-supporter--over barren years!--has been vindicated by this tournament so far. It'd be a shame to see them stymied by Argentina. Just as it was a shame to see Mexico drop out after challenging Argentina so thoroughly.
I've been all over the place with my predictions, some of them way off (such as Germany continuing to play conservative soccer!) ... but two that I'm happy about predicting correctly are Switzerland topping Group G and Australia advancing to the Round of 16. I will be rooting for an upset in the Italy-Australia game--that's what would make that corner of the Round of 16 interesting, because otherwise we're looking at (probably) a straight-shot to the semis for Italy (as they can top either Ukraine or Switzerland). And Italy have given us, as I see it, the most boring soccer of the tournament, at least among the big teams. So bring it to 'em, Aussies! I'll drink a Foster's for the Socceroos.
Other predictions: England, Netherlands, Ukraine, Brazil, and Spain will advance in their respective matches. Portugal beating the Netherlands is possible, but it wouldn't be an "upset," but if there is going to be one, I'll predict Ghana to stun Brazil. Not likely, but ... . As for eyebrow-raising results, I think we may see Spain trounce France by three goals. A team with a lot of firepower versus a team that has had so much recent trouble scoring in World Cups? The only thing that stands in Spain's way is the fact that it, um, always always always underachieves.
A few words about the dearly departed Team USA: they could have done OK for themselves, but the fact of the matter seems that, while they can play well, they can't play extraordinarily well. In a Group of Death, they're still going to need a lot of luck to get out, and the fact that we faced the aging Czechs in their first and most invigorated match, that we had those two questionable red cards versus Italy, and that Ghana were awarded (in my opinion) a bogus penalty kick does not change the fact that we didn't display the high level of footballing that the Czechs, Italians, and Ghanaians all did in at least one game. Our attack is weak (the opponents' third is like kryptonite to the Americans). Our touch and our pace are nothing enviable. We may have been unlucky in a few big ways, but the fact that we exited at the group stages remains a fair estimation of our abilities & achievements--not just the US men's national team, but as a whole 'soccer culture.' Now to see if Jurgen Klinsmann can step on for Bruce Arena, as rumor has it, and try to repair our US soccer program for a good showing in 2010.
(Leonard Cohen post coming very soon ...)